A Little Bit of Wonder is where I journal about the somewhat roundabout way that I have been working to establish a career and a strong sense of self--I spend a lot of time thinking and writing about "direction" and "identity." I have a Master's Degree in Literature, but I'm no longer working as an English Professor; I'm starting the next step in my life as I work to establish a career as a writer in the non-profit sector.

At my companion blog, Little Wonder's Recommended Reading, you will find reviews for both books and other blogs that I enjoy. The two blogs are inter-linked, so you can access my reviews and reading challenges from the sidebar on the left.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Once Upon a Time in a Not-So-Far-Off Land Called Youthful Ignorance

Once upon a time when I was a little girl, I wanted to be an Author and write Important Novels. I must stress that my books had to be Important – not merely entertaining, but life-changing for those who would read them. That is why, when I was asked to start writing “books” in my first grade class, I wrote and wrote and wrote – and crossed out just as much as I had written. I wasn’t coming up with anything that was good enough. The teacher wanted me to write stories about things like my favorite flavor of ice cream, which I promptly rejected – a book about Mint Chocolate Chip was not life-changing.

And so although we were supposed to be “publishing” stories every day, I sat staring at the empty lines on the page, frustrating poor Mrs. Kries and the fifth graders who came in to help with our “publishing” program. I was the self-declared Author in the classroom, but all my classmates left me in the dust when it came to the volume of material that they “published” – printing up their treatises on owning a pony, their debates over Chocolate versus Vanilla in the horribly angular typeface of the old classroom Apple. (These were the days before the Mac, the days of the black screen with the neon green type.) They would draw a picture for the front cover and bind it all together with those plastic comb spines, then cal themselves authors. Meanwhile, I had nothing to show for all my talk.

Once upon a time, I also wanted to be an Interior Designer, like all those lucky people in my grandmother’s glossy-paged copies of Architectural Digest and House Beautiful who got to spend all day shopping for pretty curtains and re-arranging other people’s furniture. My four-story Barbie house, custom-made by my wonderful handy-man grandfather, became the canvas where I practiced my Art. And that’s what it was – an Art-with-a-Capital-A. I would be an Artist and an Author, rearranging people’s furniture and changing people’s lives with my charming and profound novels.

Then I started college and met Jeremy, who was a lot more practical. He asked me questions that my parents hadn’t asked: “What are you going to do with your degree in Creative Writing?” “I am going to be an Important Author and write Significant Books of all kinds,” I answered him. Unfortunately, his skeptical look wasn’t quite enough to deter me from my naïve, idealistic outlook on life that would eventually give me more whiplash than a ride on a badly constructed roller-coaster. I didn’t understand that as a Creative Writer, I wouldn’t even make enough to buy Ramen or pay for an unheated garrison in Paris. (I’m assuming that the rent has gone up since the days memorialized by Hemingway in A Movable Feast.)

But then I began the next phase of my naïve, idealistic engagement with the world – I decided that I would join the staff of New Life Church in Ann Arbor, Michigan. I would be a kind of at-home missionary; I would do things for other people that were Life-changing and Important. I would still write novels in my spare time, and just have to settle for re-arranging my own furniture. I probably wouldn’t ever have my work featured in the pages of Architectural Digest, but if you want to change the world, you have to make a few sacrifices. Here I was, twenty years old and still living blissfully in the Land of Youthful Ignorance.

In my mind, the Land of Youthful Ignorance looks a lot like the world from Dr. Seuss's The Lorax, with all those beautiful Truffula Trees.

Then came the first real crash-and-burn. It’s called a Religious Crisis, among other things, and it was/is far too complicated to explain in this particular post. But suffice it to say that even though I still wanted to help people and change the world, I no longer felt like I could work for a church. And that is when I had to start really thinking about how I would get a Real Job out in the Real World, with only a B.A. in Creative Writing and Literature. Thankfully, Eastern Michigan University calls it a degree in “Written Communications,” which at least looks more serious and competitive to directors of insurance agencies and corporate offices.

But after I have spent so much time imagining myself as an Author and an Artist, it has taken me another five years to accept that I need to become a grown-up and apply for the jobs that are actually being offered. These five years are another chapter of my life, with several more events of the crash-and-burn variety. But those will have to wait for another time, another blog post.

Fast-forward to 2011, where I am now living in the land of Terrified Disenchantment and applying for jobs in the corporate world -- but still trying to avoid job applications for air conditioning installation companies and auto-parts manufacturers. I would have eventually gone hungry in the Land of Youthful Ignorance, but at least I derived a sense of importance from being an Artist. Now I have to face up to the fact that I’m just another more-or-less average member of society and try to summon up a sense of wonder for the simpler things in life.

1 comment:

Tara said...

I made the shift from starry-eyed idealist to job-driven pragmatist awhile ago. To be honest, you'll sleep better at night if you don't pin all of your hopes and dreams on obtaining "X." Just be open to what opportunities come your way, and you might end up doing something incredibly rewarding and unexpected.

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